The Crippling Role of Republi-fascist Governors in the Fight Against COVID



From the time the coronavirus was first known to be infecting humans, the GOP has basically been “the Party of COVID.” It started with then-president Trump’s denialism1 and then his assurances that COVID-19 could be cured with hydroxychloroquine or even by self-injecting bleach.

Since then, America’s fascists and other reactionaries have made a virtual religion out of opposing public health measures that are absolutely necessary to preventing the spread of deadly disease.2 They organized armed protests against these measures at several state capitols last spring, and have unleashed threats against hundreds of local public health officials. Facebook, Fox News pundits, QANON, and some GOP political leaders have become mouthpieces spreading lunatic “theories” that the COVID-19 vaccine is “really” a magnetic tracking device, or causes infertility, or other nonsense.

Most of the 27 Republican governors are not out there with the same kind of open insanity as Trump, Fox’s Tucker Carlson, or Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene.3 And early in the pandemic, when Trump was briefly pressured into calling for a 30-day “pause” in the economy, most governors went with that and implemented some statewide public health measures, some of which remained in effect even after the “pause” ended. Since then, they have “encouraged” people to wear masks; and, when the COVID-19 vaccine was approved, they promoted vaccination and were vaccinated themselves.

But while appearing somewhat more “reasonable,” since those early shutdowns they have increasingly played a decisive role in subverting and obstructing the fight against COVID-19, by refusing to impose public health rules at the state level, and blocking local governments or even private businesses from implementing their own. The Republi-fascists claimed that masks, social distancing, and vaccines were a matter of “individual choice,” not social responsibility. They declared the “right” to willfully infect and perhaps kill other people to be an emblem of American “freedom,” and that establishing rules that would combat COVID amounted to “tyranny,” “socialism,” or “communism.”

Because of the federal system of government in the U.S.,4 state governors have enormous power to impact public health... and many have used that power to bring about the situation in which well over 600,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S., and the Delta variant is now spreading at an extremely rapid pace.

Here are two examples of the role of prominent Republican governors in large states that have been centers of the COVID-19 pandemic:

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis

  • After the initial lockdowns in March 2020, DeSantis rushed to reopen Florida’s economy that May, “defying coronavirus surges that filled hospitals.” Claiming the crisis had been exaggerated, DeSantis denounced “the wide-ranging and punitive orders issued in various regions of this country,” declaring that “People have rights.” He bragged about his own “surgical” approach of implementing such measures only after the pandemic was out of control in an area.5

When Florida reopened in early May, there had been about 1,300 reported deaths up to that point. Three months later, the total had risen to 7,000—a roughly five-fold increase! And as the highly contagious Delta variant took root this summer, DeSantis dug in his heels.

  • Florida is a major center for cruise ships, where thousands are trapped in relatively close quarters for weeks—a proven petri dish for viral spread. But when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tried to require that all cruise passengers be vaccinated, Florida successfully sued to block this. Some cruise companies then tried to impose their own vaccination mandates (judging pandemics on their ships were not good for business). So Florida ordered a ban on any vaccination mandates in the state, even by private businesses, thus guaranteeing the “right” of cruise passengers to become infected and die from COVID.
  • DeSantis bragged about a new state rule adopted on Friday to gut the ability of local school boards to mandate masks—even though most adolescents and all kids under 12 are unvaccinated, and Florida now has “more COVID-19 hospitalizations, including for pediatric cases, than anywhere else in the nation.”
  • DeSantis justifies all this by saying, “We can either have a free society, or we can have a biomedical security state. And I can tell you: Florida, we’re a free state. People are going to be free to choose to make their own decisions.”
  • As of August 5, over 39,000 Floridians have died of COVID, and people are continuing to die there at an official rate of 56 per day. Nearly 13,000 COVID patients are hospitalized, more than at any point in the pandemic.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott

  • In June of 2020, faced by a major surge of infections, Abbott imposed a statewide mask mandate and social distancing regulations, which he began phasing out in the months after that. By March 2, 2021, he was done with combatting the virus and declared the Texas economy “100 percent” open, announcing that “people and businesses don’t need the state telling them how to operate” any longer. At the time (March 2021), about 200 people per day were dying of COVID in Texas. (Death rates were dropping at that point as more people got vaccinated.)

With the emergence of the Delta variant this summer, Abbott took the offensive... against public health measures! On July 29, 2021, he issued Executive Order GA-38, which did the following:

  • Prohibited any school or school district from requiring students to wear masks (with a possible fine of $1,000 for requiring masks);
  • Prohibited schools from even inquiring about vaccination status of students or teachers, much less requiring them to be vaccinated;
  • Ended all COVID-related operating limitations on businesses;
  • Suspended any portion of the existing Texas Health and Safety Code that got in the way of this order.

This was followed up by an order from the Texas Education Agency, which oversees primary and secondary schools that:

  • Schools would not engage in any testing of students;
  • would not engage in contact tracing of students who became ill with COVID; and
  • Would not notify parents if someone in their child’s class became ill with COVID.

These policies were aptly characterized by Gregg Gonsalves, associate professor of epidemiology at Yale: “This is conservative virtue signaling. It’s meant to send a message: We don’t care about public health expertise or guidance, we are all about liberty and freedom unconstrained by any responsibility to others. Give me liberty and give me COVID.” Or as Dr. Dara Kass, an associate professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University Medical Center, put it, these policies are “objectively insane.”

As of August 8, 2021, Texas has had at least 3.2 million COVID cases, and nearly 54,000 deaths.


1. On February 26, 2020, Trump tweeted that we “have 15 people, and … within in a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.” On the same day he told the media that “this is like a flu,” and later added “far less lethal” than most cases of the flu.  [back]

2. Such as mandating that people wear masks and socially distance indoors, or requiring people to be vaccinated before entering crowded venues.  [back]

3. Greene recently cheered Alabama’s record-low vaccination rate, suggested that southerners shoot anyone who came to their door encouraging them to get vaccinated, and blamed the COVID pandemic on Dr. Anthony Fauci.  [back]

4. A system established at the country’s founding in order to give greater power and autonomy to the southern slave states.  [back]

5. He also tried to manipulate the state’s COVID data so things would appear better than they were, and fired the state official who refused to go along with that.  [back]

America’s fascists organized armed protests against public health measures at several state capitols last spring, as here at Lansing, Michigan, April 30, 2020. Photo: AP

As of August 8, 2021, Texas has had 3.2 million COVID cases, and nearly 54,000 deaths.



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